Hurrah! We have made it to "Z" in our ABCs of SPED series! That's 26 posts full of need-to-know content from Access to...Zone of Proximal Development. It doesn't roll off the tongue, I know, but nevertheless it's important to celebrate the milestone.
You might be thinking, "Zone of promixal...what now?"
You didn't think I'd wrap up this series with a throw-away topic, did you?
Today we're discussing one of my favorite concepts in the study of how children learn.
The "Zone of Proximal Development," or ZPD, is a term coined by psychologist and pioneer Lev Vygotsky and it posits that a space exists between what a child can do currently and what a child cannot do currently-- what a child can do with support.
It's the space where a kid can ride a tricycle but can't yet ride a bike... but they CAN ride a bike with training wheels. We can think of this as one or two rungs above where a child can currently climb independently, but with a boost they can get there.
Here's an easy visual to help put this into perspective:
I always think about ZPD when I'm cooking something new. I can cook pasta all on my own, however, I CANNOT make my own pasta-- I don't know how to do it myself and if I tried right now it would be a flour-y, sticky, unedible mess. But if I get a recipe with instructions or an Italian grandmother to help (even better!), I feel confident that I could do it. And after a number of times of making my own pasta with support, I will likely be able to do it on my own.
Here's why this matters:
When we're looking at goals, we want to always ensure that the proposed goal is in the student's zone of proximal development. Goals in the child's ZPD are both appropriately challenging AND attainable.
I'm sure you've seen the consequences of setting goals outside of this zone! If a child's goals are too challenging, it can cause frustration and shut down. If a child's goals are not challenging enough, it can cause boredom and poor behavior.
Goals that are written in a child's zone of proximal development are challenging enough to provide a high level of engagement in the effort to meet the goal and a high level of pride when achieved.
So how do you make sure that your child's goals are in their Zone of Proximal Development?
As always, you look at the data!
If you have strong Present Levels and/or strong evaluation data, this will provide a starting point to build from.
Then consider the S.M.A.R.T. acronym-- what is a specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic/relevant and time-bound goal that makes sense given the data?
Then, after a goal is chosen, there should be continuous progress monitoring to determine whether the goal is actually appropriate. It is 100% okay to re-work a goals if it's obvious mid-year that the goal is too easy or too challenging!
This can be a fluid process, and it's certainly a worthwhile one.
At the end of the day, Zone of Proximal Development is one of those ideas that seems complex on the surface but is actually very intuitive. It's simply finding the "sweet spot" between what a student knows and what they don't, and directing your effort there.
Are you familiar with this term? Have any successes in this area? We'd love to hear about it! Share over on our IEP Guru Facebook page.
As promised from last week! We're talking about YOU in this blog post. YOU make up the "Y" in our ABCs of SPED series!
We're talking about YOUR role in the IEP process.
You probably know that the law (I.D.E.A.) requires certain people to be a part of any IEP meeting. These people include:
While any number of other professionals may also attend, these aforementioned people are foundational to the team. This means that you, as a parent or guardian, are considered an equal member of the IEP team. You are an important enough member of the team that the meeting cannot happen without you.
(Unless the team can prove, in writing, that they have tried immensely and still failed to get you there. I once knew a teacher who held an IEP meeting at a Burger King during a parent's break who was working there. That's my new bar for "trying immensely to get your attendance.")
So yes, you're an equal member of the IEP team. But sometimes it's hard to know what your job is on the team. Everyone else has a clearly defined role, whether it's the case manager, the occupational therapist, the administrator...but parents? That's more complicated.
In my experience, the role of the parent in the IEP meeting is this:
1. To ask questions. The special education world is FULL of jargon. You could easily sit through an IEP meeting as a first-timer and miss 2/3 of what the team is saying. If you're going to support the work of the school, you have to understand what they're saying! So ask questions if you're unfamiliar with a concept. Ask questions if you're not sure why one strategy was suggested over another. Ask questions if you think your child needs something that the team has dismissed. Ask, ask, ask. Sometimes the best advocacy you can do is simply to ask the team to justify what they are doing. Questions are also a great way to hold the team accountable.
2. To provide context and insight. Your child's teachers and therapists only see him or her in a handful on contexts. They have no idea what s/he is like outside of school, much less what happened last year or when s/he was 2 years old! The role of the parent is to provide a holistic perspective on the student by bringing in information that may be relevant that the team doesn't have access to. While they are the expert on education, YOU are the expert on your child.
3. To share ideas. The education world tends to get stuck in phases. A new piece of research comes out and BOOM everyone is all about "alternative seating," or "flipped classrooms," or "brain breaks." It can be helpful to hear parents' ideas about what might help their child. You've been teaching your kid a lot longer than we have! What works well at home? What have you tried that was a miserable failure? Share these things in the IEP meeting! A good team builds on the knowledge of other team members.
4. To keep an eye toward the future. As a rule, the IEP process works in regimented increments. A new IEP every year, new goals every year, new evaluations every 3 years, certain timelines for what must happen in 60 calendar days if X happens...it's all relatively fixed with regard to "start" and "finish." Life isn't like that! Sometimes a parent can provide needed perspective on what they want for the child, and what the child wants, AFTER K-12 schooling. This should inform how parents approach the IEP process.
5. To learn strategies you can transfer to the home environment. Just like teachers should learn from what you're doing at home, parents should learn and incorporate at home what is working well at school. This continuity of strategies or supports between contexts can be so, so helpful for students. This is why I always advise parents to bring a notebook and a pen to IEP meetings-- there are often great ideas floating around that may very well make things easier for you at home just as they are at school.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good place to start. If you're nervous about how to interact in an IEP meeting, focus on these 5 tasks first! As you get more comfortable you can expand to making requests and advocating with confidence.
Want more great IEP advice? Head over to our IEP Guru Facebook page for more articles like this one!
Aha! I know y'all are reading this just to see what I could have possibly come up with for the "X" in our ABCs of SPED series. I did cheat a bit, as this topic doesn't start with X... but it includes an X and sounds like "X" so it's pretty darn close!
Today's topic is EXtra Considerations in the IEP process.
If you've been in the special education world long enough, you've likely realized that there is a page of the IEP dedicated to "special considerations," "special factors," or "consideration of special factors" in the development of the IEP. Here in TN, this is on page 2-3 (depending on how long you've made your parent concerns).
I can't tell you how often I see IEP teams rush through this page. Typically as it approaches, someone on the team says "special factors, no no no, okay..." and they move on. THAT is why it's important that you know what these special considerations are and why they matter.
The special considerations page covers five criteria that may impact your child's ability to learn. These criteria include:
Here's what I.D.E.A. says about what the team must consider in development of the IEP if your child falls into one (or more) of these categories:
"The IEP Team must--
(i) Consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior (in the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others);
(ii) Consider the language needs of the child as those needs relate to the child’s IEP (in the case of a child with limited English proficiency);
(iii) Provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child (in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired);
(iv) Consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode (In the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing or who has communication needs);
(v) Consider whether the child needs assistive technology devices and services.
What does this mean for you?
First, look at your child's IEP. Does it say "Yes" for any of these 5 special considerations? If so, read the I.D.E.A. outline above and familiarize yourself with what the school team is supposed to be considering in that area. For example, if your child has a "Yes" for behavioral concerns, has the team developed positive behavioral interventions and supports (typically through a BIP, or Behavior Intervention Plan)? Ask them to demonstrate HOW they have done so.
If your child has "No" for any of these criteria and you think that's not correct, familiarize yourself with what the law says and be prepared to advocate for inclusion of one of these special factors. This resource has excellent information about each of these 5 factors and how to interpret the law (which is great as I am NOT a lawyer and this is not intended to be legal advice!).
Lastly, use this discussion of Special (or EXtra) Considerations as a training ground for being a more authoritative part of your IEP team. This is a great place to practice saying:
"Wait, could you explain how you decided on this answer?" (whether it's a yes or no)
"I'd like to spend more time here, let's not move on just yet."
"I'm not sure I understand that. Can you explain?"
"I'd like to know whether my child's need for direct communication with peers was considered before the team decided "no" for communication needs."
And here's the most important thing-- these Yes/No decisions on special considerations should not be made without your input. They shouldn't be decided on by the team of teachers before you arrive. Fear not...we'll get into this in detail next week when we discuss YOUR role as a parent (the Y in our ABCs of SPED series)!
When I started this ABCs of SPED series, I didn't want to solely focus on the IEP process. My goal was to shed light on common issues and misunderstandings, yes, but also to open your eyes to concepts that are general best-practice in the classroom.
This week's topic is one of those: Whole-Brain Teaching
Please resist the urge to move toward that "X" in the upper right-hand corner while thinking, "I'm not a teacher."
Are you a parent? You're a teacher.
Are you a caregiver? You're a teacher.
Are you a nagger? An introducer of new things? An activity-creator-to-get-this-child-out-of-my-hair-for-one-gosh-darn-minute? You're a teacher!
The concept of Whole-Brain Teaching, or WBT, is as beneficial at home as it is at school.
So what is WBT?
Whole-Brain Teaching is an instructional strategy to integrate and connect both right and left hemispheres of the brain which leads to more engaging and balanced learning. Research shows that using Whole-Brain Teaching can lead to better processing of information and increased communication skills!
The tenets of Whole-Brain Teaching include:
A great synopsis of how to use WBT in the classroom can be found here. But let's talk about four ways to practice these strategies at home!
1. Use call and response. In the classroom, this looks like the teacher saying, "Class?" and the students responding "Yes" at attention. At home, this may look like a parent saying, "Ready?" and a child responding "Ready!" when it's time to go, with the corresponding knowledge that the "ready" signal means shoes must be on, coat must be zipped, etc.
2. Use gestures. Do you ever feel like your child has selective hearing? I do! It's hard for kids to manage constant auditory input. A gesture is a prompt that provides a child with a direction visually. Gestures are also natural to children (think the Wheels on the Bus and the Itsy Bitsy Spider!). Gestures work great to indicate that you want a child to start something, you want them to stop something, you want them to get something, etc. An example of a gesture could be a peace sign to indicate the child has 2 minutes before it's time to go.
3. Use tracking tools. Working on a certain skill at home, like clearing dishes after meal time or putting shoes away (instead of strewn all over the floor)? Create a visual chart that shows progress toward a goal. We typically see charts like this for potty training-- every time the child uses the toilet they get a star, and after they get so many stars they get a prize. This works for ALL of us, no matter the age! Just switch out the skill, switch out the indicator, switch out the reward. You know those fundraising thermometers that show how much money has been raised? Exact same thing. Kids are motivated when they can see progress and know they're getting closer to the goal.
4. Practice emotional regulation. Have you ever been anxious and felt like you just needed to shake it out? That is an emotional regulation skill in action! It's also a great strategy for kids who are physical by nature (see point 2 above). The best thing we can do to teach our kids emotional regulation is to model it ourselves. This means 1) narrating our own feelings and 2) demonstrating how we deal with our feelings. For example, if I'm feeling stressed about being late, I may say out loud to my kids, "You know, this traffic is making me feel anxious. I'm worried we might be late." Then, I'm going to model how I deal with that stress. For me, this is typically self-talk and deep breathing. I might say, "I'm going to tell myself that this isn't something I can control. We'll get there when we get there. I'm going to take 4 deep breaths-- would you like to take some deep breaths with me?" It is imperative that our kids see us struggle and see how we react to big feelings. This is how THEY learn how to deal with big feelings!
If none of these examples feel right to you, another way to incorporate Whole-Brain Teaching is to think through the following questions:
How can I make this skill/learning opportunity more well rounded? How can I incorporate more than one learning style or type of intelligence? How can I use more than one of the five senses here?
These questions will guide how to extend and expand your interaction with your kid(s) so that they're getting the benefit of both sides of their brains interacting at the same time!
Do you have any experience with Whole-Brain Teaching? We'd love to hear about it! Share your thoughts over on the IEP Guru Facebook page!
Confession: I'm a post-it note kind of person.
I LOVE to have reminders everywhere of the things I'm supposed to do.
I love having a to-do list where I can mark things off. Same goes for a paper planner.
I love setting the background of my phone with a reminder to breathe or to focus on what's in front of me (my kid, not my phone).
I have a spreadsheet on my fridge of all the different options I can send in my child's lunch box so I'm not spending brain power coming up with ideas every day.
These are examples of visual supports that I use every day to help support my success.
And just like we (as adults) do better with visual reminders and supports, our kiddos do too. This is why the V in our ABCs of SPED series is dedicated to visual supports.
So what is it?
A visual support is a tangible item that helps a student with a disability communicate, stay on task, self-regulate, or process information. Anything a child can see!
Visual supports help students by providing context beyond oral language and social cues/body language, which we know are often areas of struggle for kids with disabilities.
Visual supports also help to decrease stress and anxiety in children, and this tends to reduce problem behaviors.
Common examples of visual supports include:
If you're interested in learning more about visual supports and how you can incorporate them into your home or classroom, please check out our IEP Guru Better Behavior Kit. This kit includes 8 visual supports to help any child who has trouble making decisions or dealing with unexpected changes, who struggles with following directions, who needs help with emotional regulation, asking for a break when needed, or who needs prompting to take responsibility for their words and actions.
That's just about all kids in my estimation! In this kit you'll receive an explanation and directions for use, one or more samples or examples, and one or more blank templates for each of the 8 supports.
I promise-- this is purchase you won't regret making (especially at such a low cost!). Click on the "Services" link in the website menu to purchase!